Understanding and dealing with China is a complex and controversial challenge both for publics and policymakers in Canada and the United States. Everyone knows it is growing and changing rapidly—its economy, its armed forces and its society. But there is great uncertainty about where it is headed, and what polices are best to deal with it.
As is often the case when things are complicated, extreme views have superficial appeal. On the one extreme, some see China as an inevitable enemy that must be contained; on the other hand, there are those who see China as a slowly developing democracy that can be embraced. Experts and pundits can all find anecdotal and selected statistical evidence for virtually every trend in China, good and bad: rapid economic growth, but corruption, weak banking systems and backward state-owned enterprises; substantial increases in military budgets and shootdowns of satellites, but uneducated conscript soldiers, uneven training and rudimentary command and control; village elections, civil protests and Internet chat rooms, but arbitrary arrests and imprisonments, security crackdowns and Internet censorship. It is difficult to discern the truth about what China is, much less where it is going.